In another life I was a piano teacher.
I had quit the piano at age ten, like most kids, in a fit of impatience with my elderly teacher and a disinterest in practicing. I didn’t want to play the songs from my grandparent’s childhood found in John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano (circa 1936), I wanted to play the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique.
I wanted to play beautiful music.
After a few years of piano-free existence, at thirteen, using the knowledge I’d accumulated from all those years of lessons, I taught myself Für Elise. It took about a year of unsteady practice, and after mastering that I moved on to the Moonlight Sonata. From classical I moved to the show tunes we sung and danced to in theatre and choir.
These weren’t played for anyone but myself, and I realized that was what had been missing in all my years of playing; passion, which enabled me to rise to a challenge.
I didn’t understand it as a child, but art is difficult – that’s what makes it beautiful. Once I began playing out of love for a song, I discovered a fortitude previously unbeknownst to me.
Each of the songs I list below have come to me at different times in my life, and each have remained sacredly beautiful for various reasons. Mostly, they make me think bigger, dream bigger, and love bigger than I thought myself capable of – just like the hard work I wasn’t capable of until I discovered my passion.
Carpet Crawlers – Genesis
I first heard this when I was very, very young. It brings up memories of sitting around the campfire with my parents and sister – the youngest hadn’t even been born yet. My father, also a music lover, would play tape cassettes he and my mother recorded off the record player. He told us he was educating us in Neil Young and The Rolling Stones, and though we balked at his music (none of it Top 40! Where’s the Ace of Base?), we got more of an education than we’d expected.
This is the music that brings me back into my childhood most easily, as if I’m merely slipping on my old Converse instead of traveling back in time.
In this particular song, it’s the harp that gets me, and the eternal refrain:
“We’ve got to get in to get out.”
Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
This was the first song I discovered all on my own that I knew I had to have. Back in the days before the Internet and downloads and easy access to information, finding a song took supreme effort, especially if it was early 90’s rock, where the title of the song barely made any reference to the indistinguishable lyrics.
When I finally, finally found this song, I purchased the tape cassette with my own money – and $13.00 for an album was a high price to pay, indeed, for a thirteen year old in 1995. Needless to say, I rewound and replayed this song so many times it became a visceral part of me.
The strength of the melody and the building of tension to a breathtaking crescendo has always held me in an emotional grip, a sort of musical lock-down I can’t break out of until the song ends. Even then, I remain introspective afterward.
Silver Springs – Fleetwood Mac
As I rediscovered the music of my childhood, Fleetwood Mac became a key part of my fifteen year old identity. I actually had never heard this song until I saw them perform it live for their reunion tour on TV. I bought the CD, and have played this song every time I found myself in unreciprocated love, or just yearning for feeling that intensely.
The chimes, the incorporation of the piano, and the pleading beauty of the lyrics have always spoken to me.
“Time cast it’s spell on you, but you won’t forget me.
I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me.
I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you,
You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loved you.”
That’s all I ever wanted – magic love, even if it was broken.
Permanent – The Milk Carton Kids
By the time I hit my indie music phase, I was finishing up college and so tired of the bullshit music that seemed corporately engineered on the radio. Mike and I were listening to a lot of NPR during this time, and Morning Becomes Eclectic opened up a whole new world of artistry.
When Mike first played this song for me, I sat on the sofa immobilized for at least ten minutes. Where was my life going? What was I living for? Did I have a love worth dying for?
“Even if I lay ten million bricks
And they break through the summer haze
Someone will come around and bulldoze them down someday.”
Not long after hearing this song for the first time, I started writing again. Beauty inspires me that way.
Oh, and eventually I did learn Pathetique, about four years before I started trying to teach others that beauty takes hard work.
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Remember When – Alan Jackson
This song reduces me to tears, every time. Do you know why?
It’s the song Mike and I danced to at our wedding. It’s been our song ever since we first heard it as two young kids in love. We decided we would always “Remember When” together.
Happy Second Anniversary, Mike.
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